Letters to Nature

Nature 404, 876-881 (20 April 2000) | doi:10.1038/35009107; Received 20 December 1999; Accepted 2 February 2000

Experience-dependent plasticity of dendritic spines in the developing rat barrel cortex in vivo

Balazs Lendvai1, Edward A. Stern, Brian Chen & Karel Svoboda

  1. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, 1 Bungtown Rd, Cold Spring Harbor, New York 11724, USA
  2. Present address: Institute of Experimental Medicine, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Szigony u. 43, 1083 Budapest, Hungary.

Correspondence to: Karel Svoboda Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to K.S. (e-mail: Email: svoboda@cshl.org).

Do changes in neuronal structure underlie cortical plasticity1, 2? Here we used time-lapse two-photon microscopy3, 4 of pyramidal neurons in layer 2/3 of developing rat barrel cortex5 to image the structural dynamics of dendritic spines and filopodia. We found that these protrusions were highly motile: spines and filopodia appeared, disappeared or changed shape over tens of minutes. To test whether sensory experience drives this motility we trimmed whiskers one to three days before imaging. Sensory deprivation markedly (|[sim]|40%) reduced protrusive motility in deprived regions of the barrel cortex during a critical period around postnatal days (P)11|[ndash]|13, but had no effect in younger (P8|[ndash]|10) or older (P14|[ndash]|16) animals. Unexpectedly, whisker trimming did not change the density, length or shape of spines and filopodia. However, sensory deprivation during the critical period degraded the tuning of layer 2/3 receptive fields. Thus sensory experience drives structural plasticity in dendrites, which may underlie the reorganization of neural circuits.